Whether it’s a dusty pitch that makes it difficult to defend against spin bowling or a firmer, faster pitch that begins to crack, different conditions change the way a batsman plays and approaches different bowlers.
Bangalore based company QuickLogi Technologies has developed a product called StanceBeam, a small sensor device that fits onto the end of the handle of a cricket bat making it ‘smarter’ by providing personalised and real-time performance data for each batting session to help improve performance.
By focusing on a globally appealing sport as cricket they are addressing a market in the hundreds of millions.
Even more strategically, the company is positioning itself to take advantage of growth in the consumer market segment of sports performance tracking, a category which was once only available to elite sports teams is now starting to become available to all ages, demographics and abilities.
In this conversation we talked to Arminder Thind and Ishwinderpal Singh the winner of the 2017 Indian Game Changers competition. Thind has worked on other sports focused startups in the past before focusing on smart wearables for cricket and Singh brings with him past experience of working for consumer electronic companies. They shared insights about the growth of the company and the current journey of taking a product from a beta phase and onwards to market.
StanceBeam won the Indian Game Changers in October 2017. Nine months on, what particular milestones have occurred with your business?
Arminder Thind: “When we won the award we were in a prototype stage. After that, we focused on developing our own proprietary hardware leveraging the funding by our state government here (Karnataka). Prior to that stage we were trying to use off-the-shelf hardware.”
You start building your own hardware, what happened from there?
AT: “We built the hardware, and it’s our proprietary hardware with the kind of form factors needed for sports applications like what we’re doing currently. It can enable us to enter any other sport if there is a business case for it. Secondly, we expanded our team, such as the software development side. As we’re in the beta phase we’re busily doing product testing with our partners.”
In brief describe the types of data and analytics the sensors record and sends to the user or coach?
Ishwinderpal Singh: “Being sports players ourselves, we tried to develop data and analytics which we found missing while we were training but also include the element of feedback from other coaches and players. With StanceBeam we provide a lot of data and analytics per shot and session such as back lift, downswing and follow through angles, shot power, bat speed, bat speed at impact and shot efficiency. We tell you which direction you’re pointing your bat when your back lift starts, for example, towards first slip or second slip. We also check the downswing angle and downswing speed. From there we can measure shot efficiency, what power you’ve hit the shot, how many shots you’ve played in the air and how many on the ground in a session.
“To make sure all these data points and analytics is very easy to understand and are actionable, we have created a very interesting user experience in our mobile app. For example, you can simulate your exact shot in 3D and can see all data points overlaid on the 3D simulation. It makes it very easy for players and coaches to visualise each shot later and make more sense of related analytics.”
Are you seeking partnerships with cricket bat manufacturers and suppliers or is your strategy to keep independence as your product can fit onto any cricket bat?
AT: “We are seeing a lot of interest and anticipation from all quarters across the globe for our upcoming product. Right now our focus is on B2B2C, we are already in talks with major manufacturers in cricket to build partnerships and get our sensors distributed. We want to remain a tech focused company getting new research and development done, innovating our products and build B2B partnerships to take our products to different markets.”
What kind of in-game or ‘nets’ testing has occurred with StanceBeam. How many years have you been in development?
AT: “A couple of our team members have a background in wearable technology. This is not my first involvement with a smart sports product either. Prior to this, I was working for another startup where I was involved in the development of a smart running shoe.
“As a company though we have been focused on cricket and combining it with wearables for a year and a half. As we’re in India we went for cricket first and the reason for that was we already had a good network of mentors and partners.
“We started out by going to manufacturing partners to ask them, ‘if we did a product what sport did they want and what kind of equipment it should enable.’ After talking to a couple manufacturers it was clearly cricket and something for the bat as that accounts for about 60 percent of the overall cricket equipment market. As we’ve been in sports for some time now, we have access to a couple of very good coaches and some startups who are primarily in the business of sports coaching. Consulting people like that helped us devise what kind of analytics will help. Ishwinder is a cricketer himself so within a few days we got a working prototype and within a month we were up and running, began testing the analytics and from there we continued to improve.”
With all of the analytics and data that StanceBeam delivers, how do you picture it fitting into an team’s high performance stack?
AT: “We are getting a lot of interest from elite coaches and they are seeing value in a product like this. What is happening at the elite level is there is video analytics available but there are disadvantages, firstly it is rather two-dimensional and of course our human motion is three-dimensional. Secondly, a lot of time is invested by sports analytics people who review videos to make some sense out of it. Whereas we can give real-time data from our sensors overlayed on video, to give a far more accurate picture if I want to say, for example, tell a batsmen to improve their back lift or downswing. You can now benchmark that and tell them which direction you should be going.”
This is the kind of technology that could directly impact the course of singular test matches, to a series to an overall improvement of a player.
AT: “Definitely. And right now there’s no benchmarking in terms of how you’re playing or technique or anything that gives you some foundation data on your technique. You can view your batting data mapped out by day, month, season or year and make changes to your batting style, your bat and see if that makes any difference.”
A player could come in at lunch and have a swift analysis with their coach to review their previous session in the middle to make slight adjustments to their stance or how they face a particular bowler. Your product could be pivotal for a batters decision making.
IS: “A quick review of a session summary and comparison feature can help coach identify talking points with a player. One elite coach from India explained to us exactly same situation you asked about this way.
“A player’s less than normal bat back lift against a particular bowler gives me enough indication that player is defensive against a particular bowler. This then enables me to discuss better strategy playing against that bowler or may be just help player break that psychology barrier about the bowler.”
Have you considered the fan engagement, the viewer and broadcaster potential of StanceBeam? Being able to visualise that data.
AT: “It’s interesting that you asked that question because when we won the Game Changers competition a technical broadcaster team was there at the time. They expressed interest in working with us to incorporate this technology and we’re still exploring synergies with them.
“As you said it’s a lot more value adding to fan engagement. Another thing is what’s in it for broadcasters? One thing is that sports broadcasting is very expensive and is a perishable item. Therefore how do you add value to each broadcast? As a viewer, I would want to watch the videos again, especially short-form videos. If I’m a fan I’d want to understand the game more and to improve my game I’d want to see videos with those kinds of analytics to help improve my understanding. Another thing, if I’m an aspirational grassroots level player I would want to emulate a player and learn from them. If you have more data points to understand their technique the aspiration is to become a better player from watching them.”
While your product can address a very large market, you do have competition. So how do you compete or differentiate against any competitor?
AT: “Firstly we have a completely in-house team which gives us an advantage to innovate day in, day out. Secondly, our hardware is proprietary, we have manufacturing tie-ups and do the manufacturing out of India. But a key differentiator for us will be the user experience and accuracy of the analytics we do.
“We see this as just the beginning. We are continuing to innovate both on our hardware and analytics. The next thing which we have already started working on is machine learning and artificial intelligence where we’ll be able to do predictive analytics and get to the point where we’ll be able to understand an individual from their battling style and give them personalised recommendations.”
Being able to provide the most singular experience and information for every type of player means the possibilities continue. You could benchmark countless players in any region, a team, the world theoretically.
AT: “Definitely. Our technology aims to help grow coaching within cricket and will enable development of the next wave of talent within the sport. No matter where you are based, you can access coaching and even be discovered as the next talent. When we combine sensor data, personalised predictive analytics using AI and machine learning and AR/VR for an immersive experience, it altogether creates new possibilities. That’s where we’re getting at and that’s what I see as our huge advantage.”